Angela has dedicated 30+ years of her life to a profession that she loves. She’s curious, interested and actively utilizing the latest technology to discover insights that help her company take the right action that helps their clients’ businesses grow. She knows a lot about a lot of things and is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get things done. Her team leans on her and she moves the needle forward toward achievement of the goals that everyone in her company is working toward. Out of the blue, she is laid off.
What a surprise! Or is it? Angela, unknowingly, has been ostracizing herself from her team for a while now. She’s in an industry that is full of young and brilliant minds. She’s one of those brilliant minds and she has the gift of experience to help her team avoid the pitfalls of the past because she has already lived through so many of them. She is truly an invaluable asset, but she can’t seem to relate to these younger team members.
Over the years, her friends have retired or taken roles at less innovative companies, but she loves her work, so she has stayed. She wasn’t pushing for a senior executive job title because she loves being a subject matter expert. If she moves up too high, she won’t be able to be hands on with the work she enjoys doing, so she has been content remaining at the level she’s at, constantly taking classes and running her own little tech experiments to be leading edge in her field. So, she’s brilliant, and is now led by a team of executives who are younger than her.
Her friends within the company have gone, but these younger leaders and members of her team have tried to engage her by inviting her to happy hours and events they have going on. Angela declined every invitation because the events weren’t “her cup of tea”. As time went on, she started to feel the chasm growing between herself and her team members, who gave up and stopped inviting her to events altogether. Angela talked with friends outside of the company about leaving, but she never actively looked for a new role – just mentioned to a few friends that she may be interested in leaving if the opportunity were right. Angela tried to bridge the gap with her team by working extremely hard to produce results that no one ever dreamed she could and she vowed to say “yes” to the next event she was invited to, but that invitation never came. After more than a year of this fear of being laid off, she actually was.
Ageism is real and it’s not just for seasoned professionals – just ask millennials what kinds of stereotypes they have to offset every time they walk into an interview – but what you may not be thinking about is how you contribute to the way your colleagues’ think of you.
We’ve discovered three distinct actions you can take to minimize the effects of age discrimination at any age.
- Master Your Energy
- Cultivate Friendships
- Let Go
#1. Master Your Energy
Let the energy you emanate become the way that people measure your age.
What does that mean? How do I master my energy?
- Start by imagining how you want to be viewed
- consider a role model who emanates the type of energy that you want to portray
- how do other people view and talk about this role model
- is that truly how you want to be viewed
- what do they do to emanate this energy
- is that something you can do and still be authentic to the person you are or the person you want to be
- Try it on
- for example, say that your role model is viewed as positive and smart, a no-nonsense kind of person who is full of a vibrant energy and you want to be viewed that way too
- to gain her type of positivity you try to smile more often – of course, you want to be authentic about it, so you look for the good in every situation and even the humor in tough situations (if you can), opportunities that cause a natural smile to erupt
- to gain her perceived intelligence you step up your efforts to learn and be on the leading edge of the latest innovations in your field. You become more well-read than ever and you dive in with action that helps you gain first hand-knowledge of how things work. Think of it like an engineer’s mind, full of curiosity as you dive deep into understanding how things work and why
- to be more “no-nonsense” than your typical self, make an effort to speak up and be heard, start taking risks that you wouldn’t have previously, say “no” to things you don’t want to do, get buy in for things you do want to do and start leading the life you want at work and beyond. You may discover that standing up for what you want is fun and it builds confidence, making you a more admired team member in the workplace
- to illuminate a vibrant energy, you’ve got to take care of you from the inside-out. Do things that energize you, such as working out, eating food that makes you feel good, wearing clothes that make you feel good about yourself, hanging out with people who lift you up, as examples. Bottom line – take pride in the way you look and the way you feel and take steps to bring more of what enlivens you into your life
- Check in with yourself
- now that you’ve “tried it on”, check in to make sure that this feels right and authentic for you. If not, tweak your plan to something that suits you better
- you may want to revisit your role model and take the best of two or three people to create the vision of the energized person you want to model your life after
#2. Cultivate Friendships
7 of Gallup’s Q12 factors that predict the highest levels of employee engagement and workplace performance are related to people looking out for each other and supporting one another at work. (from Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report)
This isn’t a big surprise, is it? We personally think it’s essential to your success… doing work you love with people you enjoy. So how do you cultivate these types of friendships at work?
- Lift others up
- What kind of pressure is your manager under? What goals are they expected to achieve? How can you be helpful, beyond just doing your job? As an example, is your manager completely stressed out all the time and taking it out on you and everyone else who crosses their path? Have you tried being a bright spot who asks them how they’re doing who listens with genuine curiosity? Maybe you could bring them a cup of coffee or a little treat to brighten their day and show that you care. Ask if there is anything you can do to be helpful beyond what you’re already doing. Managers hire those who make them look good and make their lives easier. What can you do to be that person?
- Take this same approach to members of your team, including your direct colleagues along with those who you interact with on cross-functional teams. You may need to lean on them someday. Why not lift them up now, while you recognize an opportunity to be helpful without asking for anything in return.
- Become a mentor
- giving back and lifting others up feels good
- you have a wealth of knowledge – isn’t it time you share it
- Say “Yes!”
- Accept an invitation to build rapport from time to time, even if it’s not something you really want to do. As you get to know your colleagues, you will likely find something that is common ground that you both enjoy, even if it’s as simple as grabbing lunch together.
#3. Let Go
Control what you can, not what you can’t. Life’s too short for anything else.
You are not going to change all people who discriminate based on age. There are people in this world who are stuck in their ways and won’t change. You can make them a pet project to see if you can change their minds, but there is a point when you need to let it go.
- Embrace you for you
- accept and love yourself for who you are
- if members of your team can’t appreciate you for who you are at your core, you may want to proactively pursue a new opportunity where you will land in a place that genuinely appreciates you for you
No one wants to be discriminated against for their age. Age is a protected class and it is illegal to discriminate based upon age. The insights here are not meant to provide any legal advice or interpretation of the law. What we’re aiming for here is to show the human side of how people think and what you can do to combat ageism by bringing forth your best, most confident, most energized self, being relatable and a valuable and supportive team member who lifts others up, so that people see you for the incredible person you are, not a number.